In this series, a jdMission Senior Consultant reviews real law school personal statements. What’s working well? What’s not? If it were his/her essay, what would be changed? Find out!
Note: To maintain the integrity and authenticity of this project, we have not edited the personal statements, though any identifying names and details have been changed or removed. Any grammatical errors that appear in the essays belong to the candidates and illustrate the importance of having someone (or multiple someones) proofread your work.
I got married to a man fifteen years my senior when I was twenty-years-old. We had two beautiful children within two years of our wedding. When my kids turned one and two respectively, I decided to remind my husband about an agreement we’d made when we first got engaged, just as he was leaving his first marriage, and I was leaving my first year of college—that after we found a groove in our lives together, I would go back to school.
He admitted that he liked the idea of having me home with the kids, but he agreed that if we found someone we both liked and trusted to help take care of them, I should do it. My deferral period from university was coming to a close. So I immediately began my search, subsequently meeting an endless parade of absolutely suitable prospects that just weren’t good enough for my babies. One thought my sister had placed in my head was, “Your kids can’t yet talk, so whomever you leave them with better be above suspicion.”
Of course, no one was. After weeks of searching, I debated pulling out of school. I could wait a few years until my children were older and could better indicate verbally if the babysitter was sneaking smoke breaks or serving them chocolate for lunch—or worse. Then my brother’s best friend mentioned that his kids’ beloved nanny was looking for a new placement. His twins were finally starting high school and her services no longer made sense for their family. My brother contacted me. And that’s how Lydia came into our lives.
Lydia was two years older than me, and our chemistry was immediate. “We’re going to co-parent the hell out of these monkeys,” she told me, with a gentle Greek lilt in her perfect English and the loving ferocity I had been dreaming about. What’s more, my kids loved her as much as we did. As our family evolved to encompass the compassionate and high-octane energy of our Lydia, for the first time in my life, I felt satisfied. I fell back into academia easily. I loved my classes and was able to study when I needed to. I had always been confident in my decision to marry and start my family young, but I suddenly had a real sense that not only could I have it all, I did.
When my son began Pre-K, he was already reading thanks to Lydia, and my three-year-old daughter could write the names of everyone in our family. Lydia was worth every cent we paid her, and we paid her well.
I take full responsibility that we never consulted Lydia about her visa status. I understand that I made a choice to pay her under-the-table when she requested it. I am fully aware that these actions were illegal. But at the time, I did not know. I was entirely unaware that when she got deported—or that that even could happen, honestly, she wasn’t a criminal—my husband and I would be fined amounts that nearly equaled my student loans. To top it all off, I didn’t even have a degree to help me pay off any of it, placing the financial burden squarely on the shoulders of my husband, who had absolutely no culpability in the hiring and paying of Lydia.
In the following, miserable months, my children were torn apart by the loss of Lydia. I decided that going back to school would only compound the tragedy, so I dropped out of school, my five remaining credits sitting there. I threw myself into being a mom and tried to repair the damage my mistake had done to my family.
Finally, my daughter was beginning first grade and my son was entering second grade. Their school offered a wonderful afterschool program. My husband and I had figured out a way to pay off those vicious fines. Lydia settled into her life in Greece, sending us letters and treats that my children treasured. We had survived the worst of it.
My husband and I talked about my loans and the possibility that now I might pursue a career. When I had been in school I was certain that career was going to be education. But now I had a different direction in mind: Law. I wanted to understand the mistake I had made from the inside. From the outside, I been so childish, so immature, so misguided. Although I was voracious in my appetite to understand the unfolding events, I was still just the dumb blond who had hired the illegal alien. I was the airhead who had never thought to ask questions. I was the spoiled second wife who never paid taxes on the dog walker, the house cleaner or the gardener. Why would I pay them on the nanny? All these things were said about me. And they were true.
I am now ready to change that narrative. That’s what I told my husband when I announced that now that the children were in a full day of school, I wanted to go back too. I was going to be a lawyer.
I reenrolled and finished up with the rest of my credits, focusing on subjects that would help to prepare me for the LSAT. I engaged in activities that would allow me to meet my newest goals. I built a new life, a knowing life, an aware life. And I grew stronger because of all of it.
Overall Lesson: Although your younger self may have been less wise than your current self, take care not to portray her as an utter fool.
First Impression: The first paragraph achieves key goals for a personal statement introduction—it is intriguing, well written, and neither overly clever nor overly dramatic.
Strengths: This essay’s strength is the story. First, the candidate effectively covers a lot of ground—from getting married and dropping out of school, to her nanny being deported, to returning to school, and ultimately to deciding to study law. She manages to convey a significant amount of information in just a few pages, and she does so without making me feel as though she is moving through her story too quickly or omitting important details. Second, the candidate does not appear to include any irrelevant material. Although I believe this essay could benefit from some trimming, that is simply because it is on the long side, not because any of the material is blatantly gratuitous. In other words, she does a good job of maintaining her focus and direction.
Weaknesses: In some places, the candidate’s syntax lapses into being too casual—the phrase “To top it all off,” for example. I do like that she writes in the same way she speaks, because this makes her writing read smoothly and sound authentic. But although the adage “write like you talk” is great for a first draft, the candidate needs to then edit that first draft to eliminate any overly informal phrases.
In addition, the section in which she relates her situation with Lydia to her law school aspirations could be improved. She writes, “I wanted to understand the mistake I had made from the inside.” I buy this claim, but it is a narrow application of her experience to her interest in law. How did this ordeal affect her thoughts about immigration law? Or about herself, as someone living in the world without a clue as to how the law really works? Or about Lydia’s willful violation of the law? The candidate could go in many directions with her essay, but my point is that she should pick one and go there. She needs to extend the scope of her law interest beyond simply stating that she wanted to better understand this singular experience—as true and noble as that may be.
Finally, characterizing your former self as an idiot is always dangerous. Although we were all younger and dumber once, we typically were not as dumb as we may portray ourselves for the sake of a story—and that lack of authenticity is apparent in this essay. Depicting your younger self as a moron is usually not a great idea, and particularly when you are trying to convince a complete stranger to admit you to his/her law school. The candidate can very effectively write about what she learned from her experience without painting her younger self as entirely foolish.
I would encourage this candidate to better relate the story she shares to her subsequent interest in attending law school and becoming a lawyer. She should also carefully trim and edit the language throughout her essay, paying special attention to the section in which she discusses her reaction to her poor decisions in the past and their consequences on her life and family. 📝
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